In the desert, they can't remember your name ...

Just before Moses -- I mean, David Petraeus came down from Mount Sinai to Capitol Hill to tell Congress that they might want to plan on at least another 40 years in the wilderness of a lost war whose perpetrators refuse to admit their error, The Guardian published what it said was a “confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.”

Here's what we need to know:

The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked “secret” and “sensitive” , is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security” without time limit.


Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries. The agreement is intended to govern the status of the US military and other members of the multinational force.

I've always been fascinated by the fact that Si Newhouse toyed with picking Michael Kinsley as the editor of The New Yorker before picking David Remnick. Kinsley is almost unarguably America's most perspicacious pundit and Remnick, its most impressive journalist -- which speaks well for Newhouse as a judge of talent -- but the two are as fire and water when it comes to their respective notions of what constitutes good journalism. Kinsley just sits and thinks while Remnick pounds pavement until his heels hurt. You can see the difference of their respective visions if you compare Slate and today's New Yorker, and although The New Yorker has far more resources at its disposal, the differences run deeper than that. The problem with Kinsley is that he is so good, he is inimitable. His example is actually problematic for many journalists whose imitation reveals the model's limitations. Good reporting is not easy, of course, but neither is it “rocket science,” and so the example of great reporting can inspire good, sometimes great, reporting. The example of great thinking cannot. So thank goodness for America's best magazine that Newhouse decided what he did. All this is a long way of saying everybody must read Kinsley's brilliant essay in The New Yorker on the vagaries of facing up to death in our silly society. Having gone through the editorial and fact-checking process the week before, I can promise you this: It's all true. What's more, it's deep and moving and as thought-provoking as any essay I can remember reading, anywhere.

(And while you're there, don't miss Bud Trillin's wonderful report on the mayoral election of London, yet another opportunity to lament the colorlessness of our own politics, which is not online ...)

And speaking of Martin Amis: I hadn't noticed, but my pal Tomasky wrote the best review of Amis in the April/May Bookforum, here.

This, for laziness purposes, is from Today's Papers. The upshot is that the Bush administration is purposely soft on crime so long as it is being committed by wealthy and powerful corporations, and for the first time, as we enter a recession, all of the gains of the previous expansion went to wealthy people; virtually none to the poor and working classes:

Over the last three years, the [Justice] department has chosen not to prosecute “more than 50 companies” that agreed to enter into an agreement that allows the government to levy fines and appoint an outside monitor to mandate internal changes in a corporation. These deferred prosecution agreements have been used extensively by the Bush administration, and some worry that companies might be taking on extra risks because they're confident they won't have to face trial if detected. The NYT says this might well be the way Justice will deal with companies involved in its subprime mortgage investigations.

The NYT's David Leonhardt points out that an interesting fact about the current economic downturn is that “the now-finished boom was, for most Americans, nothing of the sort.” For the first time since World War II, the economic expansion of the last few years didn't benefit the median American family who actually made a bit less in 2007 than in 2000. “We have had expansions before where the bottom end didn't do well,” an economist said. “But we've never had an expansion in which the middle of income distribution had no wage growth.”

From George Zornick: The Washington Post's editorial today is, as has been the paper's postion, quite supportive of the surge in Iraq: “Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker have gotten more confident about calling the surge a success, and rightly so.” The editorial goes on to lament “the partisan debate over Iraq,” which “remains resistant even to established facts.”

Before writing about this shameful partisan divide over Iraq, the editorial might have taken a look at the story the paper ran on A1 today, titled “Frustrated Senators See No Exit Signs.” The story contains critical quotes from many Democrats, but also Sen. Chuck Hagel (R- “Where do we go from here?” ) Sen. Bob Corker (R- “I think people want a sense of what the end is going to look like” ), and Sen. John Barrasso (R- “We're a generous people, but our patience is not unlimited” ). The editorial also failed to note this:

The [GOP]'s two most-respected voices on foreign policy, Sen. Richard Lugar, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. John Warner, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, refused to buy the argument.

Small signs of progress, Lugar said, are no substitute for what he called “the political endgame.”

“Simply appealing for more time to make progress is insufficient,” Lugar of Indiana declared. “Iraq will be an unstable country for the foreseeable future.”

Damn these destructive partisan politics ...

McCain Suck-up Watch, The Useless Hypothetical Edition: “A Wall Street Journal article on Sen. John McCain's chances of winning California in the general election reported that 'McCain's appeal to Hispanics is central to his strategy in the state -- especially if the Democratic nominee is Sen. [Barack] Obama, who has polled well behind Sen. [Hillary] Clinton among Hispanics there.' However, the article did not mention general election polling that shows McCain significantly trailing both Obama and Clinton among California Hispanics.” Here.

Alter-review: RatDog at the Beacon

I got to see this RatDog show last week. I'm not sure how much there is to say about these shows except that every time I go, they're great. What was interesting about the setlist was that Bob Weir was singing almost all songs that Jerry had done with the Dead. This was great, because they are great songs, and it is also interesting to hear Bob's voice on them, but it is also melancholic because Jerry's voice was so defining a characteristic of the strange beauty of the music the Dead made. These guys sometimes sound just as good. The musicianship is breathtaking -- this one had the great Warren Haynes in it and that Jimmy Herring fellow in it -- and the crowd, though weirdly male, friendly and generous; whether you want to get high or not, you really have no choice. (And I mean that mostly, but not entirely, metaphorically.) My overall point is that people die but institutions live, and the Dead created an institution that thankfully lives on here, in Phil's band, and in all the children they spawned. Kind of gives one hope. Go see them if you get the chance and this is your kind of thing. Despite the terrible name, it's damn near impossible not to love. (And sadly, we're not getting an Allmans show at the Beacon run this year, owing to Greg's having contracted hepatitis C.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Alex Bernstein
Hometown: New York

My CORE horror story involves accepting their MLK award (a large bust almost too heavy to carry home) on behalf of my father, Leonard Bernstein, a few months after he died, in January, 1991. I still had the “old” CORE in my mind -- until I heard Roy Innis celebrating the recent bombing of Iraq, soon followed in kind by Charlton Heston and Jerry Lewis. However you felt about it, Dr. King's birthday was hardly the time or place to be singing the praises of war. Sickened, I could barely get through my lame speech through angry tears. Everyone must have thought, “Aww, he must miss his father so ...”

Name: Peter Rosenberg
Hometown: Bradenton

"In fact, the number of people who called themselves 'liberal' and supported the invasion of Afghanistan -- Andrew Sullivan's imputation of fifth-columnism and Karl Rove's deliberate lies notwithstanding -- was approximately 90 percent."

I am a Liberal and did support the invasion of Afghanistan as part of going after Bin Laden and Al Qaida.

What I do not support is the incompetence of the Bushites in dropping that effort in order to illegally and immorally invade Iraq, leaving Bin Laden free and the Taliban able to reconstitute and become a greater threat than they originally were.

I believe most Liberals in America feel as I do about this.

Name: M. George Stevenson
Hometown: Bronx, NY

Dear Dr. A:

In addition to courageously -- I mean this -- publishing genre-inspired novels almost guaranteed to get bad reviews from critics who only want another “Rachel Papers,” “Money,” or “The Information” -style fiction, I fear Martin Amis is also genetically predisposed to political crankitude.

The sins of his father's later career include a great deal of deeply felt and intentionally offensive fiction and essays deploring feminism, tolerance and other “wet” thinking. It is almost as if Sir Kingsley Amis was perversely adopting the pose of the defender of the rich in his still wondrous “Lucky Jim” ; one hopes that Martin Amis has read his own memoir of his father's later days and recognizes that further adopting the Hitchens & Co. mindset would only be bad pattern repetition.

Eric replies: We at Altercation do not blame the sins of the fathers on the sons, alas.

Name: Larry M
Hometown: Rockville, Maryland

Martin Amis has written some good books, notably “Money” and “Experience.” However, his writing is often pretentious and self-important. His father, Kingsley Amis, stated that “Importance is not important. Only good writing is.” Martin Amis, like his pal Hitchens, seems to think that whatever he is doing, whether taking a taxi or going to the cinema, is important just because he is doing it. Also like Hitchens, he appears to believe that erudition equals logic, say that since he knows the meaning of “aphasia,” his arguments must be correct. After reading enough of Martin Amis, it is hard not to think he has some sort of psychological problem, that he really wants to be one of the big boys like his father, Philip Larkin, or Saul Bellow. I had already ordered Martin's new book via Amazon. Now I'm wondering if that was a good idea, as from the review it appears this book is Martin's effort to be even more extreme and pretentious than Hitchens.

Name: Marty Cobern
Hometown: Cheshire, CT


Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between East and West in NYC, so the Met is technically on the West Side, even though it is on the eastern edge of Central Park.

In fact, all of Central Park is on the West Side.

(ex-Bronx boy, so I don't have a horse in this race.)

Eric replies: Dubious, but I'll take it...